We Were Promised Jetpacks: The Summer Sci-Fi Blockbuster Scene

27 May

Lately I’ve been thinking about something that Douglas Coupland talks about in his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture called “Now Denial.” Now Denial is “the only time worth living is in the past and that the only time that may be interesting again is the future.” Ever since I was a child I’ve been obsessed with sci-fi. I followed the Europa report closely. I lamented Pluto’s planetary downgrade. I took Astronomy in post-secondary even though it did not fit in with my Arts degree. Heck, I even follow the Mars Rover on Twitter and insisted we take a side trip to NASA when we were last in Florida.

The first herald of the summer sci-fi blockbuster season was the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion. Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness have opened in the past few weeks to big numbers, and we are still waiting upon the releases of After Earth, Pacific Rim, Elysium, and Riddick.

But if you check out the box-office numbers, Fast and the Furious 6 is set to out-pace both Star Trek and Iron Man domestically and probably internationally.

Here’s a pseudo-list of what I want in the summer sci-fi scene:

Ask Hard Questions or Be A Fun Ride
A lot of the time the sci-fi genre gets a bad rap for being predominantly espacist in nature. To me, the hallmark of a sci-fi text (whether it’s made out of paper, celluloid, or e-ink) is that it asks hard questions. Questions like why are we here? Who made us? Are there other beings out there? Are we actually going to destroy our planet? Our humanity? The way in which sci-fi answers these questions varies. But at it’s core, I want sci-fi to do either of two things: ask the hard questions, or be a fun ride. Ten points to Gryffindor if the text manages to do both.

World-Building Sense-Making
For Pete’s sake, all I ask is that the world-building make sense. This is pretty self-explanatory, but crucial, at least to me. If the runaway success of Inception is any indicator, you don’t have to dumb a text down just to make it more accessible to audiences. If you have a convoluted plot-line, all it has to do is make sense, and they will come (I’m looking at you X-Men: Days of Future Past).

The special effects must be rip-your-face-off, blow-your-mind awesome. This is sci-fi we’re talking about. However, I could do without the recent trend of the overuse of lens flare *cough*J.J. Abrams*cough*.

Character Development, Character Development, Character Development
We need believeable characters. And not just WHITE characters. This is where and why the Fast and the Furious franchise is still popular after all of these years. It’s got the action, some would say no plot, but there are both female and male characters with diversity. The females aren’t just there for eyecandy, they are equals with the male characters, and are given their own characterization and backstory.

Star Trek had a good thing going with the alternate timeline. How would Kirk react without a father figure? How would Spock react with no home when Vulcans populate the original series? I haven’t seen the new Star Trek yet, but I can guess where the plot line is going. We need new and diverse characters (protagonists AND antagonists) or else the genre will end up like many others — stale, outdated, and with severely lowered box office numbers.


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